S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan and 11 bookies after being produced at the residence of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Saket court complex in New Delhi. PTI photo
Indian cricket’s reputation was dragged through the mud on Thursday and a billion fans were betrayed as three players, international S Sreesanth and lesser lights Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila, were arrested for fixing in the domestic T20 league.
The cricketers, who represent the Rajasthan Royals franchise, were held in Mumbai for spot-fixing — altering the outcome of an event during the game in exchange for money — and flown to Delhi to face the music.
They were taken to court, faces covered with black cloths, in the evening. And when their shaken teammates take the field for their next game on Friday, the trio will be in police custody.
The fall was steepest for the 30-year-old Sreesanth, a talented but troubled fast bowler who played the last of his 27 Tests for India nearly two years ago. Any slim hopes he may have entertained for an international recall now lie in tatters. His lawyer maintained that Sreesanth was innocent and had been framed.
A Delhi Police team swooped in on Chavan and Chandila at a posh south Mumbai hotel around 3am, while Sreesanth was variously reported to have been picked up from the tony Carter Road area of Bandra or from another five-star hotel where he had been lured by the cops.
Eleven bookmakers were also nabbed in Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
Those arrested face charges of cheating and criminal conspiracy and police are planning to slap them with the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), which could land them in jail with only a slim possibility of bail.
The arrests were the culmination of a month-long surveillance operation run by the Delhi Police, which has been in dire need of a success after copping endless flak for its handling of crime on the Capital’s streets and the high-handedness of some of its cops.
Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar told a packed news conference that information had been received last month that some members of the Mumbai underworld were involved in match-fixing in the ongoing T20 league with the active participation of some unidentified conduits, bookies and players, some of whom were based in the national capital region.
The suspects were, according to the police, subsequently kept under constant watch and tracked through technical surveillance that helped investigators assemble 'hundreds of hours of taped conversations'.
These revealed that match-fixers and bookies from Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab among other locations were conspiring with some players participating in the league for spot-fixing.
Chandila was found to be involved in spot-fixing during the May 5 match against the Pune Warriors, Sreesanth in the May 9 game against Kings XI Punjab and Chavan against Mumbai Indians, which was being played in Mumbai on Wednesday night.
Chandila was allegedly promised R40 lakh for giving away 14 or more runs in his second over and paid half that amount in advance, but had to return it as he forgot to signal the bookmakers in time for them to place their bets.
"Chandila had to pull up his T-shirt and look at the sky before the start of his second over but he failed to give the signal," said Sanjeev Yadav,
DCP (special cell).
"Other codes were tucking in a towel, rotating a watch and wearing a wristbad."
During the game against Kings XI Punjab, for instance, Sreesanth tucked a towel in his trouser right before his second over to signal the bookies and also did some stretching, allegedly to give them ample time to place heavy bets.
"Sreesanth had ended up giving away 13 runs against the agreed to 14, but was still paid R40 lakh," said Yadav.
"We were present at all three matches and we moved in on the players when Chavan gave away 15 runs in his second over, as he had agreed to, last evening."
Chandila, who hails from Faridabad in Haryana, also acted as a go-between for the bookies in their dealings with Chavan, police said.
The police underplayed speculation that gangster Dawood Ibrahim and his henchmen in Pakistan, Dubai and India were involved.
A source, however, said that a former South Asian cricketer may be one of the kingpins.